Unless a couple of political scientists that I very much respect are dead wrong, Governor Yukiko Kada’s new party, which brought new hope to the 61 newly jobless Representatives seeking to retain their seats and 12 Councillors consisting of Ichiro Ozawa’s followers and a handful or two of other mostly DPJ refugees who failed to catch on with any of the more promising Third Force movements, isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Chris Winkler, a scholar at the German Institute for Japanese Studies, made a persuasive case in an online discussion to the effect that it wouldn’t make much of an impact because the voters would be making up their minds on the basis of a variety of reasons and the nuclear question was not particularly decisive. I was inclined to agree with him and didn’t have much to add by way of argument. The other political scientist, a Japanese scholar who has observed the governor more closely, will go unnamed because he was more dismissive of her as a run-of-the-mill politician who has been all over the place on issues.
The first week of the Nippon Mirai no To (literally, Party of Japan’s Future) has so far validated their predictions. Beyond her signature anti-nuclear stance, Kada has basically adopted Ozawa’s anti-TPP, anti-consumption tax hike posture as well as some of the expensive 2007/2009 DPJ manifesto items such as the 26,000 yen/month child allowance. Keeping her day job as governor and appointing a trusted Ozawa ally as her virtual second-in-command are showing her up as a one-issue figurehead. Even her anti-nuclear platform—a 2022 deadline for phasing out nuclear power—has come under significant criticism as unrealistic (or undesirable by pro-nuclear voices) while no doubt disappointing the hardcore anti-nuclear crowd, who want the nuclear power plants shut down immediately. Her attempts to explain herself on the nuclear question has exposed to charges of waffling. This is unfair, perhaps, since she had never ruled out the possibility of restarting nuclear reactors that meet the test of new safety standards to be set by the Nuclear Regulation Commission, and Toru Hashimoto and pro-nuclear Shintaro Ishihara are still in open disagreement on the nuclear question even after they settled on a compromise wording for the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) policy platform. However, Hashimoto and Ishihara both have well-established national reputations for hard-nosed leadership that transcend any single issue and enable them to weather individual mishaps. Kada by comparison takes center stage with a much smaller national profile, making an initial setback on the nuclear issue or the impression that she is merely a convenient front for Ozawa takeover more damaging and difficult to counter.
National polls taken this weekend should leave the NMT at best a distant fourth behind the LDP, DPJ and JRP. The announcement of a full-fledged policy platform, scheduled for today, should generate some media interest but not much of a bump going forward. The moment for Kada has come and gone in my view.